Dustin Grella: Director, Prayers for Peace
1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of PRAYERS FOR PEACE, from concept to financing.
I don’t know that it was ever a conscious decision. The film is entirely non-fiction, and I tried to keep as close to the facts as possible, so the story unfolded relatively naturally. I write every day, so after I walked past the ribbons, I went home and wrote about it, and while I was writing it I knew I was going to make a sound piece out of it. I was trying to make it feel a little like a Ira Glass narrative, very Americana. When I started looking for a topic to do the animation on I realized that I already had this sound piece finished and could simply animate on top of it. I don’t know that I ever sat down and said that I was going to make a film about my brother. I think this goes back to the question of what motivates me, when I said that the creative process is exciting, that I never really know what is going to happen next. I could be writing a letter one day that becomes a sound piece another day that becomes an animation the next, I don’t ever really know.
I think I might have just done that. The film’s creation was very organic. I just had to sit in the studio and do the work. As I mentioned before, the whole thing is a narrative of what actually transpired. I was walking home, I saw the ribbons and went home to write about my thoughts. After making the sound piece and deciding to turn it into an animation I decided that the shots should be long and slow so that the viewer has the opportunity to digest the story and not get hung up that it is entirely drawn with pastels on a sheet of slate. I storyboarded what I could, and pulled a lot of the sound and imagery off of Devin’s laptop, although the images for the end didn’t arrive until months later. I had some ideas of what I wanted to use, but this film’s creation was very organic. I just had to sit in the studio and do the work. I found the reference footage for the very last shot a few days before I used it. My Uncle Art gave me hours and hours of family VHS tapes to go through and I was getting sort of tired and drifting out and would have missed it entirely, but my girlfriend leaned over my shoulder and said, “Whoa!” Even though I did a lot of the work on the film, the film itself kept shifting forms and I really didn’t know what it was going to be about. It wasn’t until it was all over that I realized it wasn’t really my film at all, I was just there to put it together.
2Q This is your first time at Cinequest, how has your experience been so far? Has your film been to any other festivals, or do you have plans to take it elsewhere?
I had a great time at Cinequest. Sometimes the larger festivals have a tendency to treat the shorts a little different, maybe as second class filmmakers, but Cinequest really did a great job at treating us well. The film has been doing very well at festivals, in fact it just got into Annecy, which is great for animation, and it is a semi-finalist for the Student Academy Awards.
3Q What was your best and/or worst experience while making PRAYERS FOR PEACE?
I think my best experience in creating Prayers for Peace was simply enjoying the creative process. It was my first attempt at a narrative structure, so most everything was scripted ahead of time, but I still left enough room for the film to become what it wanted to become. It just feels so good to be able to be working in a field where you love what you do, and making new work and creating new animations is such an exhilarating experience, that I feel like that is motivation enough. I had a friend over the other day and I was working while she was here, and it took me out of the zone for just a minute and I saw myself and incredibly repetitive and how boring it might look, and I found myself trying to explain to her that it isn’t as bad as it looks. I really enjoy the meticulousness of it, and the fact that you really can get out of yourself for long periods of time.
4Q Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
I feel that my film is honest and emotional and if that is the type of film you are interested in, then you will enjoy this one.
5Q I know this short film was very personal for you. Do you plan on filming any more shorts in the future, or maybe try a feature film?
Honestly, I love the short film format and feel that it is actually more popular than the feature format. How many millions of youtube videos are there? Those are all less that ten minutes. I’m going to do a few more shorts for now. I have some ideas that I’m excited about. Plus I feel like I need a little more time to understand the process before I jump into something that takes as much work as an animated feature.